Want to become a concert photographer but not quite sure where to start? Here are my best tips for anyone who loves live music and has ever yearned to combine their love of music with dreams of photographing their favorite bands.
Better yet, these are tips that you can apply regardless of your skill level or equipment. Get started on your journey as a concert photographer today.
Why listen to me? I'm a music photographer who started out shooting in tiny basement music venues with no photo pass — I was just a fan with a camera and a passion for music. Over a decade later, I work as a professional music photographer and have photographed everyone from Aerosmith to ZZ Top.
1) Start Local and Build Up
Just like any genre of photography, building locally is your best chance of creating opportunities for yourself, and music photography photography is no different. This means two things.
Start working with local bands. These are the artists who need you and your images just as you need access and willing subjects. You'll be able to create a partnership with local artists instead of being viewed as a potential liability with more established artists.
Work with national artists as they play in your home city. When you have artists coming through your city who you want to work with, reach out. You'll have a much better chance of getting hired or getting access if you represent a kind of no-effort choice, without the expenses and sign-off needed to take a risk for either party in traveling for a gig or a higher profile event.
2) Shoot Everything
You never know what type of genre of music you'll love to photograph. Even if you listen to hip hop, shoot indie rock. If you love EDM, shoot metal. You should by all means dig into your scene and the music you love, but photographing any and all genres of music will not only give you exposure to acts you may fall in love with photographing, but it'll broaden your experiences, your skillset, and your body of work as a music photographer. You will come away more versatile, knowledgable and experienced as a result, all of which will serve you as a music photographer going forward.
3) Show Off Your Work
If you want to be a music photographer, find a place where you can show your work and present yourself as a music photographer. Create a separate instagram account or create a photography website dedicated to your concert photography. Showing your work will give you a clear outlet to showcase your music photography and also start connecting with other music photographers and, more importantly, musicians and the decision makers who can either give you access or even hire you. Use Instagram and social media at first, but eventually you should aim to have a dedicated photography portfolio website that you can use to showcase your work.
4) Update Your Portfolio Regularly
When you're starting out as a live music photographer, it's likely that your skills may progress dramatically. When I was starting out as a concert photographer, my goal was always to create one portfolio-worthy image for every band that I photographed. A lofty goal to be sure, but one that was possible, especially when I was building a portfolio of concert photography. When you're starting out in a genre of photography, you should aim to constantly update your portfolio and to post new work so that your image as a photographer is as current as your latest shoot. Be vigilant about updating your portfolio and posting new work to Instagram.
5) Be THE Concert Photographer
Regardless of where you are, make sure that you are known as a music photographer in your scene, your town, your region. And ideally, not just a music photographer, but the music photographer for the type of music you love the most. Building this reputation — by the quality of your work, networking with bands, crafting your portfolio to specifically present yourself as a music photographer — will mean you are building a brand that will open you up to new opportunities and even clients that will seek you out.
6) Commit to the Time to Make Progress
If you want to succeed as a music photographer, you have to commit. The brutal truth is that music photography is a field with tons of competition and the reality is that it may take years to find success or to stand out in a meaningful way.
As a music photographer, you should plan on committing if you want to make it to a level where you are regularly shooting big shows, getting paid for your work, and have made a name for yourself.
7) Find Your Style as a Music Photographer
As a photographer, you should strive to find your style and what defines you. This is particularly true as a music photographer, where at concerts you will find yourself shoulder to shoulder with people and vying for the same angles and moments to capture.
If you can define your style, it will make it just that much more easy to start standing out from your peers and competition, which will be a competitive edge in shooting for publications, working with artists, and more.
8) Have Fun
This is important. For all the technical challenges and all the frustrations of access, music photography is fun. There are far easier ways to make money with a camera, but none (at least in my opinion) that hold the same electrifying thrill as photographing live music. The excitement and energy of photographing music is why all real music photographers fall in love with shooting concerts, and this is something you should always keep close to your heart.
9) Embrace Failing as a Concert Photographer
Concert photography is technically difficult — especially in smaller venues, where light levels can be extremely dim. You have limited access, limited time, and no “do-overs.” All of these things add up to a tremendous amount of challenges. And you know what? You're going to fail. You're going to miss shots and get some things wrong.
Moreover, you have to be prepared to face a lot of rejection as a concert photography. Being a music photographer is TOUGH. There's an intense amount of competition, opportunities are very limited, and access is a constant challenge.
The important thing to consider here is that every music photographer has been in this same position of small failures. More importantly, every failure is an opportunity to learn and get better with the next shot or the next gig. Every time you struggle, it's a chance to learn and improve.
10) Don't Just Shoot Concerts
Being a music photographer is more than just shooting concerts. Photographing live music is amazing, no doubt, but you'll diversify your portfolio and what you can offer to musicians and publications if you also extend your work to shooting candids, behind-the-scenes, and artist portraits. Doing so will give you a skillset and portfolio that will let you stand out from other music photographers focusing on just concerts. If lighting is intimidating with portrait photography, start our using natural light and shoot on location before starting to learn studio photography.
11) Start Now
Here's a bonus tip for all those music fans out there with dreams of being a music photographer: start now. In practically every small city and town, there are likely places where you can see live music on a nightly basis. Perhaps they're not big name acts, but you can get your start as a live music photographer right now. Whether it's a lineup of local indie bands or a jazz club, there is live music happening around you where you can get started as a concert photographer. These are the kind of opportunities that you can take advantage of with no special access and no need to jump through hoops for credentials like a photo pass. If you want to be a music photographer, start now.
If you want to become a music photographer or if you want to stand out, this article is my best advice for how to get started and get ahead. These tips have nothing to do with camera gear or photography technique, but they are far more important than the camera you're using or the ISO setting used.